In the wake of the gov's announcement that he plans to veto any gay marriage legislation and instead seeks to put the question to the voters as a ballot referendum, Democrats are in an uproar.
Yes, they hate the proposal. But they're really angry over the words he used to sell it. (This is often the dynamic with this governor, see here and here.)
Dems are against the referendum concept because they say civil rights matters cannot be left to the masses -- only legislators should right societal wrongs and enact marriage equality. Yet what has them furious -- or "apoplectic," as PolitickerNJ called it, and "stunned," as the Star-Ledger said -- are the words Christie used Tuesday in the news conference when he made his announcement.
As we reported, Christie said: "The fact of the matter is, I think people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South."
This is the rest of the quote: "It was our political institutions that were holding things back. I don't think there's anything necessarily so special about this particular issue that it must be handled by a Legislature. Why would that be?...I dont understand how anybody could argue with letting the people decide this issue."
Democrats, particularly Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex), who is African American, have repeatedly called gay marriage a civil rights issue. That's why they made it their top legislative priority this year. And that was the context in which Christie made his remarks.
Oliver responded yesterday to Christie's comments saying that he "better sit down with some of New Jersey’s great teachers for a history lesson, because his puzzling comment shows a complete misunderstanding about the civil rights movement."
“It’s impossible to ever conceive that a referendum on civil rights in the South would have been successful and brought justice to minorities...They were fighting and dying in the streets of the South because the majority refused to grant minorities equal rights by any method. It look legislative action to bring justice to all Americans, just as legislative action is the right way to bring marriage equality to all New Jerseyans."
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, also African American and a Democrat who rarely speaks out against the governor, said: "I shudder to think what would have happened if the civil rights gains, heroically established by courageous lawmakers in the 1960s, were instead conveniently left up to a popular votes in our 50 states."
Added Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman: "His words defy history and were extremely insensitive to the struggle for equality of African-Americans and other minorities in this country. Fighting and dying in the streets of the South was not a choice, Governor, it was the only way."
Even Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who originally had far softer words for the governor's position, claimed that the governor's call for a constitutional amendment to be voted on by the electorate was nothing more than "the official opening of his campaign for vice-president."
In response to a question yesterday to clarify his remarks, Christie said his point was that the Democrats are wrong if they say the only way to deal with a civil rights issue is through legislation. Civil rights activists could have always appealed to the courts to seek change - and therefore, passing new laws is not the only way.
"They’re trying to say the only way to deal with a civil rights issue is through legislation, and my point is that in a state like this, the fact of the matter is their own polling belies that position," Christie said.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll, 52 percent of New Jersey voters support same-sex marriage. That's why same-sex marriage advocates shouldn't be "afraid" to put the matter on the November ballot, Christie said.
"Let's stop hiding behind this 'we don't put civil rights on the ballot' thing. Ya know, please. These folks would put anything on the ballot if they thought they could win," he said.